Exegetical Exercise (2 Chronicles 7 1-11)

Tissot's depiction of Solomon praying at the dedication of the Temple
Dedicating the Temple for its appointed purpose by using it for its appointed purpose

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, March 18 is 2 Chronicles 7:1-11; it is the next episode in the event we started reading about last week, and that winds up next week with the end of chapter 7 (next, that is, if we don’t count the detailed petitions of Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:22-42). Here are my notes on the text:

First Impressions: Fire from heaven! (Always dramatic.) “For his steadfast love endures forever” sounds like Psalms. That is a lot of sacrifices (v5) … and I have to admit, I’m glad we’ve moved on to a different form of religion. Imagining the temple of the Holy God as a slaughterhouse is a little too confused-categories for me. Lots of specific times and places …

Background and Context: The text follows Solomon’s prayer of dedication in the newly-built Temple (2 Chronicles 6:12-42; see also 1 Kings 8:22-61), and is the part of the narration that winds up the festival of dedication. The rest of chapter 7 is devoted to Solomon’s vision of God following this big national event.

The refrain “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (vv3, 6) seems likely to be a reference to worship liturgy; we find it in Psalms – Psalm 106, and is especially a refrain in Psalm 136 – which is supposed to be “the hymnal of the second Temple.” I realize the Temple in 2 Chronicles 7 is the first Temple, but the point is that this seems to be an inclusion of some of the worship language here in the description of this worship event – like how we might include some quoted “Amens” or “Praise the Lords” in a description of a worship event today.

The priests have had the task of blowing trumpets (v6) since the wilderness (Numbers 10:1-10); they are supposed to be blown when Israel goes to war, and when there is a festival. (But I confess that whenever I hear about the trumpets, I think of Langston Hughes’ “sweet silver trumpets, Jesus”)

Consecrating “the middle of the court …” (v7) is not that clear, and evidently it was not entirely clear to rabbinical readers either, because Rashi reports a difference of opinion on this point: maybe it means he consecrated the floor because the number of offerings was just too many for the altar, or maybe it means he set an older, smaller altar into the floor …
“Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt” (v8) evidently means from very far north to very far south; there’s a full-color map showing both locations online thanks to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a commentary on the contemporary political significance of the phrase thanks to the Episcopalians. So, there was “a very great congregation” from all over the country, according to v8; as if we were to say something like “from Maine to California”.

The festival seems to have coincided with the festival of booths. According to Rashi, the “twenty-third day of the seventh month” would have been the ninth day, so perhaps the text means that people could have gone home at the end of the preceding day if they wanted to, and everyone disbanded on the 23rd. But the point there is that this event seems to have carried on for eight days, not (as it seemed to me at first) eight days for the dedication and another eight days for the festival.

This is not the only time fire comes from heaven and burns up sacrificial offerings. This happens at least two other times: Leviticus 9:24, when Aaron is dedicating the Tabernacle, and 1 Kings 18:38, when Elijah is dueling with the priests of Baal. I thought maybe we ought to count Judges 6:21, when Gideon makes an offering to God at the angelic messenger’s behest, but that isn’t fire from heaven, it’s fire from rock, so not really the same thing. The glory of the Holy God fills the sanctuary now so much that the priests can’t even enter the sanctuary (v1) – before (2 Chronicles 5:14) they just couldn’t stand to perform the rites. This seems to explain why everyone is out on the pavement in verse 3. Presumably, though, at least some people are back inside by verse 5.

Closer Reading: If we look at verbs, Solomon is the main actor in these verses, doing most of the action, but the cast of characters is very large, including the fire from heaven, the glory of the Holy One, the priests and Levites, and the people.

On two occasions, “the king and all the people” act as one: at the beginning and the end of the reference to the sacrificial dedication of the “house of God” (vv4, 5). If the emphasis of the Chronicler is on the unified worship of Israel, which the commentary in the study Bible claims, then this appears to be a perfect illustration of that emphasis.

But the main emphasis in the passage seems to be on “offering.” King Solomon “offered” in vv4, 5, and 7; king David “offered” praises in the past (v6); there are offerings in vv1, and again in 7 (4 different kinds). Worship in this story has a lot to do with offerings, and there are lots of them (thousands upon thousands, in v5). The offerings, in fact, seem to constitute a sub-section of the narrative, from v4-v7, that describes the climax of the dedication.

After that, the story winds up with the discussion of the logistics of the festival: how long it was, where everyone had come from. It’s a completely happy ending to a spectacular event; the people are “joyful and in good spirits” (v10), and the reason is God’s goodness to everyone: David, Solomon, and “his people Israel.” So the dynamic of the text is that everyone does what they are supposed to do, God is good and everyone is happy.

And then there is a coda, noting that Solomon “finished” both the house of the Holy God and the king’s house, so that “all that Solomon had planned to do … he successfully accomplished.” He finished what he planned when he accomplished it. It’s a model of success.

A concluding observation: The point of a Temple is that it’s a place where sacrifices are offered; at least, that’s what I was taught at some point in my travels through the humanities. So the fact that this text makes the offering of thousands of offerings by the offerers the climax of the dedication of the Temple of the Holy God, which is designated as the place where offerings to that God are to be offered is no coincidence. It’s the point: to make the right offerings to the right God in the right place, which then makes it a recipe for joy and goodness and success. I am glad that these days we don’t think that sheep and oxen are the right offerings. But when the “right offerings” are less concrete, and less tied to times and places and more thought to be along the lines of “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:2) in the portable temple of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and so on, I wonder whether they are not more difficult to make.

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